News / Health

Patient Cured of HIV Provides Hope for Researchers

Patient Cured of HIV Provides Hope for Researchersi
|| 0:00:00
X
July 12, 2012
An HIV-positive man diagnosed with an acute form of cancer is free of both, five years after his enterprising oncologist devised a treatment to target the cancer and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Doctors say this man is the first person to be considered cured of HIV. VOA's Suzanne Presto spoke with that persevering patient, Timothy Brown, as well as some of the researchers he inspires.
TEXT SIZE - +
Suzanne Presto
WASHINGTON — Timothy Brown, a 46-year-old from the western United States, was once known in medical journals as "the Berlin Patient."  He is the man who had HIV, but doesn't anymore.

Brown revealed his identity in 2010, three years after an innovative treatment battled both the HIV and an acute form of cancer in his body.  He now promotes AIDS research.  

"I do have some mobility problems, but apart from that, I feel great.  Yes, it's great being cured," he said last month in Washington at a policy briefing organized by The Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR.   

Doctors say he is the first person to be considered cured of HIV.

"I am functionally cured, which means that I don't have any effects from the virus, and I don't have to take medication against the virus," Brown said.  "And as long as it stays that way, which I'm pretty sure it will, I'm okay with that."

Brown was living in Berlin when he tested positive for HIV in 1995.  He took medications to manage the virus.  More than a decade passed, and he started to feel excessively fatigued.  A bone marrow biopsy in 2006 revealed leukemia.      

After chemotherapy treatments, Brown's oncologist, Gero Huetter, suggested a bone marrow transplant.  

Dr. Huetter knew that 1 out of 100 people, mostly northern Europeans, are highly resistant to HIV due to a genetic mutation.  Simply put, they lack doorways that allow HIV to enter their cells.  

Paula Cannon, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, told the crowd assembled for the amfAR briefing that the HIV-resistant mutation was well known to the small group of medical researchers who specialized in HIV.  She explained that when people with the genetic mutation are exposed to HIV, the virus "has nowhere to go and sort of fizzles out."
 
In 2007, Brown went through total body irradiation and then received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor.  He immediately stopped taking HIV medication.  Although the leukemia returned, the HIV did not.  

"The first transplant went well but the second one was pretty horrible, and I wouldn't wish what I went through on my worst enemy," Brown recalls.  His complications included delirium, and he suffered neurological damage.        

Researchers stress that such transplants are very dangerous for patients and should only be done in extreme circumstances.   

"Tim had it not because he was HIV-positive," Cannon told the amfAR group. "He had it because otherwise he would have died of leukemia."   

Brown, who used to work as a translator and has limited financial resources, says his life is now devoted to providing hope.

"It's kind of hard sometimes, like, dealing with people who still have HIV.  I'm like, I kind of get a guilt feeling because I..." Brown's voice trails off for a moment. "That's basically why I'm going around the world and talking to people.  I want there to be research."

Dr. Robert Siliciano of Johns Hopkins University says Timothy Brown has been tested repeatedly and there is no confirmed evidence of HIV in his system.  Dr. Siliciano acknowledges that there is some controversy about the fact that a few tests suggest trace amounts of HIV in Brown's system.  But the doctor notes the techniques being used can pick up a single molecule, so false positives are a strong possibility.
 
"Also, there's the fact that Tim has been off treatment for five years and the virus has not started to replicate, so I think you're cured," Dr. Siliciano told Brown at the amfAR briefing, prompting Brown to laugh and offer his thanks.   

Dr. Susan Blumenthal, a senior policy and medical adviser for amfAR, says Brown's case has changed the path of cure research.  
 
"It has inspired us to put 75 percent of our research dollars into finding a cure," says Dr. Blumenthal.  "I think he's a courageous person."

Tim Brown says that he was "scared to death" when he was diagnosed with HIV and again when he was diagnosed with leukemia.  

"Somehow I knew in my heart that I would survive, even though the odds were against me," he said.  "I was probably the first patient that they had in the hospital who would work out in the hospital room. I brought equipment to work out with, and I wanted to stay in shape.  I didn't want to lay in bed and give up, so that was probably a large part of it."  

He adds that it is important for very ill people to have somebody to count on, as he did.

Brown's case galvanizes researchers such as Paula Cannon, who uses gene therapy to develop cells with the HIV-resistant mutation.   

"He's really a symbol of what we can do, what we can aspire to, and hope, and oh my goodness, motivation in buckets," exclaims Cannon.

Cannon says scientists are trying to introduce the HIV-resistant mutation into a person's own bone marrow, making it HIV-resistant.  That would eliminate the risks involved with receiving a transplant from a foreign donor.

Cannon's own HIV research involves a special type of mice.  

"We can do a transplant of human bone marrow into these mice and they will grow us a little human immune system.  We can then infect the mice with HIV, and importantly, we can cure the mice of HIV," explains Cannon.  "So, in the mice, we were able to show that we have the tools now to cure them of HIV, and so we're now trying to translate that into the much bigger mammal, the human being."

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid